Do Dreams Affect Sleep Quality or Does Sleep Quality Affect Dreams?
Let’s start with a couple basics- first, dreams and what they are and how they happen. Second, we’ll dive into what defines good and poor sleep quality, and last, we’ll take a look at which affects the other and how.
A “Dream”, as defined by Google is “a series of thoughts, images, and sensations occurring in a person’s mind during sleep”. They are hallucinations that occur during certain stages of sleep. They are strongest during REM sleep, which is a period of time you may be less likely to recall your sleep. There are several theories as to what the purpose to dreaming is. Some theories dreams are a way of confronting emotional events in your waking life. These dreams may occur because your brain is constantly making emotional connections between the events happening. Some theories suggest that because the most active part of the brain during a dream is the amygdala, the fight or flight response, your dreams may be getting you ready to deal with potential threats in your life. Other research suggest that sleep helps us store our memories. For example, if you learn new information and then sleep on it, you may be able to recall it better the next day. Some theories hint that the purpose of dreams is to help us remember the important events that happen in our life. When you dream during the night, you may experience 5-8 dreams per night but may only remember a few. The REM stage of sleeping is the deepest stage of sleep. The processes in the brain that allow us to create long-term memories lie largely dormant while we sleep which is why the majority of dreams are forgotten upon wake up. As the brain awakes, it will begin to utilize the processes needed for long term storage, which increases the change of remembering a dream. Studies also indicate that the content of a dream may make it more memorable. If the content is relatively logical, there is a higher change of recall. If the dream is less coherent, we are less likely to recall it. The dreams we remember most- whether they are nightmares or just highly emotional, vivid dreams come with a greater arousal of the brain and body, therefore we are more likely to be woken up during them.
What about sleep quality? Sleep quality is very different from sleep quantity. The latter refers to how much sleep you’re getting each night while the former refers to how well you are sleeping. For adults, a good sleep quality typically means that you’re falling asleep in approximately 30 minutes or less, sleep soundly through the night with one or less awakenings, and can drift back to sleep within about 20 minutes if you do wake up. A good night’s sleep is average at about 7-9 hours of uninterrupted rest.
While it’s hard to pin down whether dreams affect sleep quality or vice versa, we do know that dreaming can affect the next day. Negative dreams may have an impact on the following day which can lead to difficulty sleeping the next day. Even waking up and trying to fall back to sleep after a nightmare can be difficult which may affect your mood and behavior the following day. In general, people who are good sleepers tend to describe their dreams as more pleasant, whereas people who may suffer from insomnia, depression, or anxiety, tend to have less positive emotions in association with their dreams. Despite the content, it’s relatively undetermined whether the dream itself will mean you sleep well or poorly. However, the other factors that may cause you to have good or bad dreams may indicate the quality of sleep more than the dream itself.
If you are suffering from conditions that may lead to poor sleep quality such as stress or anxiety, it is important that you address these things as the quality of sleep plays a major role in the way we operate during our waking hours. Always remember to allow yourself time to unwind before bed. If you are a sufferer of bad dreams, think about positive things before bed and keep recalling them until you drift off. If you’re trying to remember your dreams, keep a pencil and notepad by your bed. When you first wake up, grab the pencil and pad right away and see if anything comes to your mind. Try to tell yourself before falling asleep that you want to remember your dreams. While you cannot control your dreams directly, you can help yourself improve your state of mind during the day which, in turn may improve the quality of your dreams-and hopefully, your sleep as well.